I was snuggled down into my nest in the back seat of the car. I always made one up for long trips, placing my pillows against the right hand side door and my blanket puddled around my legs. From this vantage point I could see the side of my moms' face as she drove and I would fluctuate between constant chatter and sleep, thumb plugged in my mouth and my 'chewie' doll within arms reach. In those days it was easy to stretch out and get comfortable as seat belt laws hadn't been invented yet and that meant the whole seat was available for use as a bed.
It was mid February and cold outside, snow piled in high banks on top of the ditches that lined the bumpy gravel road. The breeze that seeped in from the open quarter panel window felt like icy fingers when it reached by my face. I turned to the window and watched the smoke from my mom's friend's spliff drift outside, dance around and disappear. He smoked it slowly, joint pinched between his forefinger and thumb, inhaling deeply, holding his breath for many heartbeats before exhaling. Occasionally he would tilt his hand to the left in case my mom felt like indulging. She would shake her head each time, never willing to take her hands from the steering wheel, carefully following the packed snow trail laid down by previous cars tires. I mimicked his actions, breathing in deeply and trying to draw some of its sweet scent back towards me.
I loved the smell of marijuana and everything that it signified to my 4 year old brain. It still evokes feelings of security for me, of peaceful happy childhood moments surrounded by clusters of chatting, smiling, dreamy adults. When I first encountered a group of drunk adults at the age of nine, I was terrified by their violent and aggressive manner and completely unprepared for the effect other intoxicants could have on people (and I am sure I will tell that tale when I reach that age in this series of stories).
That cold day we were driving my mom's friend to the sugar maple farm so he could help with tapping the trees in order to collect the sap that would soon start running. Maple sugar season was here and mom said we would stay for the weekend. I loved the farmhouse with its huge wood stove, the stew pot was always full of fragrant contents, big lumpy beds with thick handmade quilts and goofy working dogs who delighted in the attention I lavished on them. The owner of these dogs and the farm was a pleasant mixture of warm crinkly smiles and wild frizzy grey hair; her wide hips and an ample bosom adding to my impression of a stereotypical fairy godmother. I loved her dearly and called her my 'sugar plump fairy', but what I meant was that she was like the Christmas 'sugar plum fairy'. Except greyer...a lot greyer!
The next day we were up early, I was dressed in enough thick clothing that it was impossible to press my arms flat against my sides. This was not a problem as it meant I was warm and I had absolutely no intention of keeping my arms still anyway! We rode out to the maple forest on a sleigh which was drawn by a single huge Clydesdale horse. His hooves were the size of my head but he had the gentlest soul and was always willing to have me placed upon his back. He would walk gently around while I chirped in my shrill bird song pitched voice, exhilarated and running a constant commentary on all the things I could see from the great height I had attained.
On this day, the sleigh he pulled was loaded with taps and some drills. Up to three taps per tree would be inserted once the holes had been drilled. I spent the day playing with the goofy dogs, stroking the horse, his coarse hair making my hands grubby and also making a nuisance of myself. I would alternate between standing back and observing the work taking place while chattering away and getting way too close while the taps were pounded into the trees. Eventually the sugar plump fairy pulled me aside.
'Do you know where we are?', she filled my field of vision as she stood before me, hands shoved in her pockets.
I giggled and waved my hand over my head, gesturing at the trees all around us. 'The maple tree farm, silly!'
'Ah yes but I know a special secret about this place... I will whisper it to you...' She leaned towards me, her lips tickling my ear and her wiry hair pressed into the side of my face. 'This is the candy tree forest and the trees have asked me to give you something and to tell you it tastes best if you let it melt in your mouth with your eyes shut... She paused and drew her head back to look me in the eyes... Do you think you can do that?'
I nodded eagerly, climbing up onto the sleigh and shutting my eyes. I felt her press something with the texture of a sugar lump into my palm. I held it between my fingers, lifted my hand and took a bite. As it began to melt on my tongue, my mouth was flooded with the sweetness of maple sugar candy and my imagination thrilled with the magic of this gift from the candy trees.